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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 24;107(34):15287-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0911451107. Epub 2010 Aug 9.

Vinca drug components accumulate exclusively in leaf exudates of Madagascar periwinkle.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Brock University, St Catharines, ON, Canada.


The monoterpenoid indole alkaloids (MIAs) of Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) continue to be the most important source of natural drugs in chemotherapy treatments for a range of human cancers. These anticancer drugs are derived from the coupling of catharanthine and vindoline to yield powerful dimeric MIAs that prevent cell division. However the precise mechanisms for their assembly within plants remain obscure. Here we report that the complex development-, environment-, organ-, and cell-specific controls involved in expression of MIA pathways are coupled to secretory mechanisms that keep catharanthine and vindoline separated from each other in living plants. Although the entire production of catharanthine and vindoline occurs in young developing leaves, catharanthine accumulates in leaf wax exudates of leaves, whereas vindoline is found within leaf cells. The spatial separation of these two MIAs provides a biological explanation for the low levels of dimeric anticancer drugs found in the plant that result in their high cost of commercial production. The ability of catharanthine to inhibit the growth of fungal zoospores at physiological concentrations found on the leaf surface of Catharanthus leaves, as well as its insect toxicity, provide an additional biological role for its secretion. We anticipate that this discovery will trigger a broad search for plants that secrete alkaloids, the biological mechanisms involved in their secretion to the plant surface, and the ecological roles played by them.

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